COVID-19 in Historical Perspective

Branches of the ANZSHM and the Society's members have been active in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in placing it in historical context. Click on the links below to access a selection of papers, videos and programs.


The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Influenza and Covid 19

A presentation to the NSW Branch of the ANZSHM on June 10th 2020 by Dr Kirsty Short, Senior Lecturer, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland.

Lest We Forget

Dr Anthea Hyslop and Dr Peter Hobbins were interviewed and prominently featured in ABC TV's Australian Story episode on the Spanish Flu, which aired on 1 June 2020. The program can be watched via the link in the title. 

Historical Parallels between Australia's COVID-19 Response and Previous Health Crises

Assoc. Prof. Paul Sendziuk speaks on ABC Radio National’s ‘Big Ideas’ program, discussing historical parallels between Australia’s COVID-19 response (and federal and state responsibilities) and HIV/AIDS. The program was co-sponsored by the National Archives of Australia. 


How Border Closures Failed in 1919

100 years ago, when Australia was gripped by Spanish Flu, the nation failed to contain the pandemic, and the weak spot was the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Crossing the border, the disease spread throughout the country, infecting hundreds of thousands and killing at least 15,000 people. The parallels to 2020 are striking. So will Australia’s containment measures succeed where they failed a century ago?' Dr Peter Hobbins spoke with the ABC Signal Team on 8 July 2020.

‘Kissing can be dangerous’: How Old Advice for TB Seems Strangely Familiar Today

By Dr Criena Fitzgerald, The Conversation, 26 June 2020

Sydney University Historians Respond to the Pandemic

This article links to contributions by ANZSHM members, including Prof. Warwick Anderson. Warwick has written on how to have philosophy in a pandemic, why the iconic Australian beach was re-imagined as a special space of contamination, and what the controversies over mask wearing mean for ‘face work’ in a time of Covid-19, particularly in the United States. Along with Jim Kim, former president of the World Bank, he also spoke with Christopher Lydon on U.S. National Public Radio’s Open Source about national responses to Covid-19.

Dr Peter Hobbins on the Historical Parallels to COVID-19

Dr Peter Hobbins has been particularly sought after by the news media to provide commentary about the COVID-19 pandemic and comparisons to previous public health crises. Below are a selection of articles and programs in which his work has appeared. They can be accessed by clicking on the individual links below.

  1. ‘Parallels drawn between 1919 Spanish Flu and coronavirus’, interview with Annelise Nielsen, Sky News, 13 May 2020,

  2. ‘We forgot the Spanish flu. Will we remember the coronoavirus?’, interview with Kishor Napier-Raman, Crikey, 5 June 2020,

  3. ‘Been there before’, quoted by Jamie Warnock, Fremantle Herald Interactive, 29 May 2020,

  4. ‘History in the making: how libraries are capturing the pandemic for posterity’, interview with Hollie Pich, Guardian Australia, 13 May 2020,

  5. ‘NSW in lockdown: we’ve seen it all before’, interview with Soofia Tariq, Central News, 8 May 2020,

  6. ‘Politicians, take note this Anzac Day: coronavirus is a pandemic. It is not a war’, comments quoted by Paul Daley, Guardian Australia, 25 April 2020,

  7. ‘Fact check: is it illegal under the constitution for a state to close its borders to other Australians?’, interview with Lisa Waller, RMIT ABC Fact Check, 23 April 2020,

  8. ‘Does this town hold the clue to surviving a pandemic?’, interview with Marc Stapelberg, Northern Star, 17 April 2020,

  9. ‘Coronavirus border closures reminiscent of Spanish flu shutdown in 1919’, interview with Erin Somerville, ABC Goulburn Murray, 25 March 2020,

  10. ‘“If it kills us, we do something about it”: Sydney’s grim history of pandemics’, interview with Andrew Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 2929,

  11. ‘Preparing to face life in lockdown’, interview with Jacqueline May, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 March 2020,

  12. ‘Australia is looking to lessons from the Spanish flu’, interview with Andrew Clark, Australian Financial Review, 14 March 2020,

  13. ‘Why masks are common in Hong Kong, but not Australia during COVID-19’, interview with Matilda Marozzi, ABC Live Blog, 18 July 2020,

  14. ‘Protecting WA in 1919 and 2020’, interview with Geoff Hutchison, Drive, ABC Perth, 15 July 2020:

  15. ‘How border closures failed in 1919’, interview with Stephen Smiley, The Signal, ABC, 8 July 2020,

  16. ‘Saving pandemic ephemera for history’, interview with Josh Szeps, ABC Sydney, 14 May 2020,

  17. ‘Collecting the COVID-19 archive’, interview with Gabi Payne, City Journal News, 14 May 2020,

  18. ‘Two interviews on transport lessons from Coronavirus’, interview with David Brown, Overdrive Podcast, 28 March 2020,

  19. ‘Racism and the history of quarantine in Australia’, interview with Reema Rattan, Communication Mixdown, 3CR, 10 February 2020,

  20. ‘Spread of the coronavirus’, interview with Philip Clark, Nightlife, ABC, 5 February 2020:

  21. ‘Quarantine harks back to colonial times’, interview with Sinead Mangan, Australia Wide, ABC, 31 January 2020:

  22. ‘The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918’, interview with Michael McLaren, Wake Up Australia, 2GB, 30 January 2020:

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© 2019 by Paul Sendziuk for the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine